Newspaper boxes in Atmore, Ala., feature further coverage stemming from the arrests of Atmore News publisher Sherry Digmon and reporter Don Fletcher. Atmore is in Escambia County, which has four newspapers.
Credit: Paul Farhi / The Washington Post)

ATMORE, ALABAMA — When Don Fletcher checked the mailbox outside his newspaper’s office on Main Street in late September, he found a little gold mine waiting for him.

Folded up inside was a copy of a grand-jury subpoena served on two employees of the local school system. The confidential document indicated that a criminal investigation into potential financial abuse was underway — a solid lead for a veteran reporter like Fletcher.

It took a couple of weeks to confirm, but Fletcher soon broke the news in the weekly Atmore News that officials were probing the Escambia County Board of Education’s handling of federal covid-19 relief funds. What happened next, though, lifted Fletcher’s story far beyond this town nestled amid cotton fields north of the Florida panhandle.

Days later, the local […]

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